Home News Canada Dalhousie, Ben Gurion University collaborate on brain, spine research

Dalhousie, Ben Gurion University collaborate on brain, spine research

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Dalhousie PhD student Lyna Kamintsky, an Israeli citizen, explains her research on studying leaky blood vessels in the brain, during a reception prior to the announcement. JOEL JACOBSON PHOTO

Dalhousie University in Halifax and Ben Gurion University (BGU) in Be’er Sheva have announced a “trailblazing research relationship” to help find answers to the complexities of the brain and spinal cord.

Six professors and researchers from BGU, along with Dan Blumberg, the university’s vice-president and dean for research and development, were in Halifax on Nov. 16, to announce the collaborative effort with their counterparts from Dalhousie.

“This is transformative,” said Blumberg. “We’re creating opportunities for students and researchers to share knowledge, resources and data, to help close the knowledge gap in key areas of brain disorders.”

The $5-million investment in the project will provide sustainable funding for research that creates new and effective treatments for a wide range of neurological injuries, diseases and disorders, said Brian Thompson, CEO of the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation.

“We can improve lives and outcomes of those living with brain injury and disease,” he told about 50 people at the announcement of the collaboration. The Israeli delegation had spent the day meeting with their Dalhousie counterparts, sharing ideas in fruitful discussions.

Thompson said this program was developed, following a very successful collaboration between the two schools on ocean science.

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“There are no borders between institutions worldwide. This (the brain research program) was a natural, with the strength of Dal’s Brain Repair Centre and what BGU has been doing in the field. Between us, we’re walking the talk. We’re making it happen. That’s what’s so exciting about this,” said Blumberg.

“With today’s ease of communication, building joint programs and joint ventures has such potential. Our long-term goal is to build a joint brain centre – the one that exists here and one in Be’er Sheva.”

Blumberg said BGU was established in 1969, in an undeveloped part of Israel. “We feel we’ve made a change in that region and will continue to do so. We offer almost every major academic discipline, except law, and have two medical schools. With Dalhousie, we can find areas of co-operation that complement each other, rather than overlap. For example, our autism centre at BGU complements the one at Dalhousie. There is so much potential between us,” he said.

Alon Friedman, a neuroscience researcher with Dalhousie’s Brain Repair Centre, came to Nova Scotia from BGU in 2014. He received his medical degree from BGU 30 years ago and worked there until he came to Canada with a new diagnostic tool used to discover various aspects of brain disease. He fell in love with the school and the program, and ended up staying. He works part-time in Israel, but spends much of his time in Halifax.

“We are universities of the same size, have peripheral locations, away from the centre of everything, but able to do prominent research where we are,” said Friedman. “A few Israeli students have come here to study and some Dal students have studied at BGU. PhD students from each school, with specific projects, would spend five to six weeks at a time at the other location.”

He stressed the importance of brain research.

From left, Dalhousie PhD student Lyna Kamintsky, Dalhousie brain researcher Alon Friedman, Dal psychiatry professor Cindy Calkin and Dan Blumberg, Ben Gurion University’s VP and dean for research and development. JOEL JACOBSON PHOTO

“Brain disease is the leading cause of disability in the Western world, from dementia, to autism, to trauma, even to diabetes. Our research can impact patients directly. It’s practical and important,” said Friedman, in an interview with The CJN.

Lyna Kamintsky, an Israeli student working on her PhD, came to Dalhousie two years ago, to help Friedman with his work.

“I’ve stayed for a PhD here,” she said. “Being a huge nature buff, it took maybe two hikes in Nova Scotia for me to decide to pursue my PhD nowhere else but here.”

Now, her work in medical neuroscience is dedicated to the development of an MRI approach and special imaging analysis that will allow her and her team to identify leaky blood vessels in the brain. This will help explain the latent cognitive and behavioural impairments associated with many types of brain injuries, including trauma, tumours, stroke, epilepsy and diabetes.

“The Holy Grail of our research is to make it possible for physicians to diagnose damage to the blood vessels in the brain and in this way, predict future complications, such as seizures, depression and demential,” she said. “Once the diagnosis is made, we can try to prevent those complications by treating the blood vessels.”

Friedman concluded by saying that, “The outcomes of this project will have a profound impact and create a new talent pool of brain researchers. It will mean new therapies will go from bench (the lab) to bedside sooner.”